Northern Ireland Car Bombing Leads to Two Arrests

DUBLIN — The police in Northern Ireland arrested two men on Sunday in connection with a car bombing outside a courthouse in central Londonderry hours earlier that drew condemnation from across the political spectrum.

The bomb, which had been planted in a hijacked delivery van, caused no casualties or major damage. But after receiving a warning, the police had little time to evacuate children from a youth club nearby and hundreds of people from a luxury hotel and a masonic hall before the device exploded around 8.10 p.m.

The explosion followed a pattern of attacks in the city attributed to republican groups opposed to the peace agreement that ended the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland 20 years ago.

The delivery van used in the attack had been hijacked shortly before in Brandywell, a nearby nationalist area of the city. The men arrested are in their 20s, but the police did not provide further details about their identities and a possible motive.

The police later posted CCTV footage of the bomb blast on Twitter.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton called the car bombing “unbelievably reckless.” He said officers were inspecting a suspicious vehicle outside the courthouse on Bishop Street at 7:55 p.m. Saturday when a 15-minute warning was received by phone.

“Thankfully, the attackers failed to kill or injure any members the local community out socializing and enjoying the best of what the city has to offer,” Mr. Hamilton said. “The people responsible for this attack have shown no regard for the community or local businesses. They care little about the damage to the area and the disruption they have caused.”

Politicians from both sides of the Irish border condemned the attack.

Arlene Foster, a former first minister of Northern Ireland and the current leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said on Twitter that the attack “only hurts the people of the City” and had been “perpetrated by people with no regard for life.”

The foreign minister of the Republic of Ireland, Simon Coveney, said on Twitter that there was “no place and no justification possible for such acts of terror, which seek to drag Northern Ireland back to violence and conflict.”

Local representatives of Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland and formerly the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, also condemned the bombing.

“Derry is a city moving forward, and no one wants this type of incident,” said Elisha McCallion, a Sinn Fein member of Parliament from the area. “It is not representative of the city. I would encourage anyone with information about this incident to bring it to the police.”

The Provisional I.R.A. was the largest and most active armed nationalist faction during the Troubles. From 1968 to 1998, more than 3,500 people died in bombings and gun attacks linked to deep divisions between the predominantly Protestant unionists who supported Northern Ireland’s belonging to the United Kingdom and the mostly Roman Catholic nationalists who favored a united Republic of Ireland.

The Provisional I.R.A. formally stood down after the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, but a number of splinter groups refused to recognize the accord and have continued to organize attacks on local rivals and on security forces, killing two British soldiers, two Northern Ireland police officers and two prison officers over the past 20 years.

Republican dissidents were blamed for an increase in unrest and rioting in the Bogside area of Derry City (which unionists prefer to call Londonderry) last summer, in which the police and motorists were attacked with rocks and sometimes gasoline bombs.

Declan Power, a Dublin-based security expert and lecturer, said that sporadic and usually localized violence could be seen as an attempt by splinter groups to recruit young followers and maintain an appearance of political relevance.

“Dissident groups like the Real I.R.A. and the Continuity I.R.A. are active but not in a strategic direction,” he said. “Most of their activity is related to holding turf for organized criminal activities like drug dealing, and directed at feuding with rivals.”

“Every now and then there is an attempt to do something like this,” he said of the bomb Saturday night, “to retain their credibility as serious republican revolutionary movements.”

Such violence is now receiving more attention than before, he said, because of fears that Britain’s likely exit from the European Union could lead to the reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland, disrupting the constitutional arrangements that underpin the Good Friday agreement.

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Wife of Former Interpol Chief Seeks Asylum in France

PARIS — Nearly four months after an Interpol chief was detained in China on corruption charges, his wife has applied for asylum in France, she said on Saturday.

Grace Meng, wife of Meng Hongwei, the former Interpol president, has remained in France, where the organization has its headquarters, since his arrest.

“I have officially claimed asylum in France,” Ms. Meng said in a text message on Saturday.

Ms. Meng, who has refused to specify her Chinese given name or to have her face photographed or filmed by the news media, said in interviews on Friday that she was seeking French protection for her and her twin boys.

“I cannot go back to China; such strange things happen there, and fundamental rights are not respected,” she told the newspaper Libération. “Even here, I am afraid of being kidnapped, and I fear for the safety of my children.”

The Chinese authorities have not specified the charges against Mr. Meng, who was also a vice minister in the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, and it is unclear where he is being held.

His abrupt detention in the fall, accompanied by the news that he had resigned from Interpol with immediate effect, has cast a cloud over China’s push for a more prominent role in global affairs by taking up more leadership roles in international bodies.

Ms. Meng was put under French police protection shortly after her husband’s arrest.

In the interviews published on Friday, Ms. Meng said that she had not had any contact with her husband or with any friends or relatives in China since the arrest, and that her Chinese phone and email had been blocked. She said that strangers had followed her, had tried to get her to travel with them and that she had received threatening phone calls.

“I need the French government to protect me, to assist me, to help me, me and my children,” Ms. Meng told Radio France in an off-air interview on Friday.

Both Libération and Radio France reported that Ms. Meng was supposed to go to the French asylum agency headquarters in Paris on Friday to file an official request. The agency was not immediately reachable for comment on Saturday, and it was not clear whether Ms. Meng had sufficient grounds to claim asylum.

In November, Interpol elected a South Korean police veteran as its next president to replace Mr. Meng, who was halfway through his four-year term when he was detained.

Interpol, which functions as a sort of clearinghouse for the circulation of arrest warrants, tips and data, does not have direct policing powers of its own. Its presidency is a largely ceremonial role that entails chairing meetings and representing the institution at official events; a secretary general runs the police organization on a day-to-day basis.

Jürgen Stock, the current secretary general, has said repeatedly that Interpol does not have a say in a state’s internal affairs and was not in a position to prevent the arrest of Mr. Meng.

Ms. Meng has denied that her husband is guilty of corruption.

“We don’t have any secret accounts abroad, no hidden money,” she told Libération. “I think that my husband was arrested for a political reason.”

Follow Aurelien Breeden on Twitter: @aurelienbrd.

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‘Order! Order!’: Parliament Speaker Is Brexit’s Surprise Star and Villain

LONDON — In the wretched purgatory that was Westminster last week, there was precisely one person who seemed to be having fun.

From the silk-canopied speaker’s chair of the House of Commons, John Bercow looked out over Britain’s squabbling Parliament and brayed, “Order! Order!” in that undrownoutable voice, something like an air-raid siren with postnasal drip.

He doled out his pompous, antiquarian insults, cheerfully rebuking one member for “chuntering from a sedentary position ineloquently and for no obvious purpose.”

The outside world rarely takes much notice of the speaker of the House of Commons, a nonpartisan and typically low-profile figure who presides over parliamentary debates. But Britain’s last-minute paralysis over exiting the European Union, or Brexit, has made Mr. Bercow into a kind of celebrity.

With less than 10 weeks left before the country is set to leave the bloc, he has broken precedent by wresting some control over the Brexit decision-making from Prime Minister Theresa May, allowing Parliament to act to stop the country from leaving without a deal.

This has won him the admiration of Europeans — a French radio station named him “European of the Week.” Clips of his signature cry, “Order, Order!,” have gone viral on social media.

But it infuriated Mrs. May’s team, which on Friday threatened Mr. Bercow with the most supercilious of punishments: blocking his entry to the House of Lords — an honor bestowed on every speaker for more than 200 years.

It is an extraordinary moment for Mr. Bercow, the 56-year-old son of a cabdriver from North London. An outsider sometimes mocked for his short stature (he is 5 foot 6½), he propelled himself through the Oxbridge-educated upper reaches of British society by sheer determination and is viewed, variously, as a sharp-elbowed bully and a champion of the rights of Parliament.

Those personal qualities have come into play at a pivotal moment as Britain hurtles toward its March 29 exit with a government in stalemate.

“He is a law unto himself,” said Bobby Friedman, the author of a biography of Mr. Bercow, recalling the speaker’s decision on Jan. 9 to allow Parliament to amend a government business motion on Brexit. Business motions give the executive power to determine what happens in Parliament and when, and have not been considered changeable by Parliament.

“From a political geek’s point of view, it was pretty astonishing,” Mr. Friedman said of Mr. Bercow’s decision. “He said, ‘I’ll do what I like.’ If anyone else was speaker, it would have been incredibly surprising. With him, not particularly."

Even in the hyper-loquacious environment of British politics, Mr. Bercow stands out for his love of ornate language and withering insult.

“He could never say, ‘It’s great to see you’ ”; instead he would say, ‘It gives me inestimable pleasure to meet you for the finest condiments created by Mrs. Twinings,’ ” a colleague told Mr. Friedman, his biographer. A sitting lawmaker told The New York Times in 2013, “It’s as if he goes to bed every night, reads a thesaurus, inwardly digests it and then spews it out the next day.”

Occasionally, when a fellow politician was speaking, he would cry out, “Split infinitive!”

Mr. Bercow has made a career out of annoying his conservative colleagues. Some are still seething over his decision not to wear the traditional speaker’s regalia, including wig and knee-breeches, which he said created “a barrier between Parliament and the public.”

But nothing has approached the fury that followed his decision to allow lawmakers to amend a business motion — effectively curbing the government’s powers.

The British speaker, unlike his American counterpart, is required to drop his party affiliation and remain neutral on matters of policy.

Crispin Blunt, a lawmaker from the conservative Tory party, protested that Mr. Bercow could no longer claim to be a neutral arbiter on the issue of Brexit and should step down. Another Tory, David Morris, complained that Mr. Bercow had displayed a bumper sticker with an anatomical epithet relating to Brexit.

“Mr. Bercow denies claims that his car displays a sticker, saying the vehicle belongs to his wife,” he wrote. “But it may as well be stuck firmly to his puffed-up chest on this occasion.”

Mr. Bercow said he voted in 2016 to remain in the European Union, but insisted that he was not taking sides on the issue now. Instead, he said he was standing up for the right of Parliament to challenge a bullying executive.

“I understand the importance of precedent, but precedent does not completely bind, for one very simple reason,” he said. “If we were guided only by precedent, manifestly nothing in our procedures would ever change. Things do change.”

Mr. Bercow would not comment for this article.

Ian Dunt, a political commentator who opposes Brexit, said the government has sidelined Parliament throughout the process, claiming that the referendum had provided the executive with a more direct form of sovereignty.

He compared this moment to 1642, when King Charles strode into the House of Commons and demanded that five lawmakers be arrested for treason. The speaker at the time, William Lenthall, refused his orders, telling the king in a famous speech that he acted solely on behalf of the House of Commons.

“What we’re seeing now is one of these big moments of constitutional change,” Mr. Dunt said. “When you start thinking about the scale, you do start thinking about the English Civil War.”

Mr. Bercow is the grandson of Jack Bercowitch, who emigrated from Romania to the East End of London at the age of 16. His father, Charlie, ran a used-car business, and then, when it was forced to close, drove a cab.

Friends and neighbors described John as an opinionated boy who occasionally irritated his grade schoolteachers by contradicting them in class, wrote Mr. Friedman in the biography “Bercow, Mr. Speaker.”

“He spoke like a politician at the age of 10,” said Ashley Fuller, a tennis partner. “He’d come in and see my father and say, ‘Mr. Fuller, have you heard what’s in The Times on page 3? It’s outrageous, I have to show you.’”

His precociousness and small stature did not ingratiate him to schoolyard bullies. Mr. Friedman said they threw him into a pond, laughing and saying, “Bercow can be in there with the other amphibians.” In university, “we’d quote Monty Python and he’d quote” the 19th-century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Andrew Crosbie, a fellow Tory activist, told Mr. Friedman.

He found his tribe in politics, a profession where his verbosity was an asset.

As a young man, he aligned himself with the far-right wing of the Conservative Party, at one point promoting the “assisted repatriation” of immigrants, an odd position for the grandson of Jewish immigrants.

A fellow activist from that era recalled him memorizing and reciting whole speeches by Enoch Powell, a Tory lawmaker widely accused of inciting racism. Later in life, Mr. Bercow distanced himself from that movement, calling his own views at the time “bone-headed.”

Mr. Bercow scrapped his way up. He was so intent on entering Parliament that he hired a helicopter so that he could attend candidate selection meetings — typically sleepy, provincial affairs — in two constituencies on the same night.

In 2009, he became speaker of the House of Commons — the first Jewish lawmaker ever to hold that post. He resigned from the party, as is customary, when he became speaker. His politics had migrated to the left; he was married to a Labour activist, Sally, and many of his own party members spoke of him with open loathing.

David Cameron, then the prime minister, once mocked Mr. Bercow in front of a crowd of journalists, joking that, at the upcoming royal wedding, the speaker would intervene by yelling, “Order! I want to hear what the prince is saying.”

He lampooned Mr. Bercow’s height by likening him to one of the seven dwarves, recounting an exchange in which the speaker declared, “I’m not happy!” and a junior health minister replied, “Well, which one are you?”

Insults became a central mode of communication between the speaker and the Tories.

The health minister called Mr. Bercow a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf.” Another government minister, Andrea Leadsom, asked to nominate candidates for the “best villain” of the political year, described “an incredibly annoying little creature that squeaks a lot and has found a place in the corridor outside my office.” She then hastened to add that she was referring to a mouse, not Mr. Bercow.

Mr. Bercow, meanwhile, sneered at Mr. Cameron for his privileged background, remarking that “Eton, hunting, shooting and lunch at White’s,” an exclusive St. James’s gentleman’s club, did not qualify him to lead.

Mr. Bercow is said to have a temper and has been accused of bullying his staff, something he denies. An independent inquiry last fall suggested that he should step down. He has signaled that he will leave his post this year.

The events of the last week have won him praise from unusual quarters. The Times of London, calling him “hardly a sympathetic individual,” wrote approvingly of his actions, saying the government’s treatment of Parliament “has appeared drawn from the 17th century, frequently invoking the will of the people, much as the early Stuarts used to assert the divine right of kings.”

As for Mr. Bercow, he does not pay much attention to his critics, he told The House Magazine in 2012.

“They scribble away and the world goes on,” he said. “I have no plans to die tomorrow but if I die tomorrow I will die a very happy man.”

Anna Schaverein contributed reporting from London.

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Hundreds detained after Zimbabwe protests as U.N. denounces crackdown

HARARE (Reuters) – Hundreds of Zimbabweans arrested during anti-government protests were detained on Friday on public order charges, as the United Nations urged an end to a brutal security crackdown and an internet blackout.

The government has said three people died during the unrest that broke out on Monday after President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised fuel prices by 150 percent. Lawyers and activists say the toll was much higher and that security forces used violence and carried out mass arrests to quell the unrest.

Among the around 400 people charged by magistrates on Friday was pastor Evan Mawarire, a rights activist who rose to prominence as a critic of Robert Mugabe’s rule and led a national protest in 2016.

He will stand trial on more serious charges of subverting the government after encouraging Zimbabweans via social media to heed a strike call from unions. His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said she would lodge a High Court appeal for him to be released on bail. Mawarire faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

The internet was blacked out for much of the day, until authorities began gradually lifting a ban that had disabled some electronic communications in the country since Tuesday.

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  • U.N. calls on Zimbabwe to halt crackdown, firing on protesters

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for restraint by the Zimbabwe authorities.

“We are worried with the deterioration of the situation caused by the potential use of excessive violence in confronting the demonstrations in Zimbabwe,” Guterres told a news conference in New York on Friday.

In Geneva, The U.N. human rights office called on the government to halt the crackdown and denounced allegations of “generalized intimidation and harassment” of protesters.

As life returned to a semblance of normality in Harare, civilians ventured outside to stock up on food and other supplies while police continued to patrol the streets.

Jacob Mafume, spokesman for the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party, said he feared the web blackout was a prelude to more violence. “The world must quickly step in to remove this blanket of darkness that has been put on the country,” he told Reuters earlier in the day.


Authorities have yet to respond to the allegations of a crackdown, but many Zimbabweans believe Mnangagwa – a former Mugabe ally – is falling back on his predecessor’s tactics by using intimidation to crush dissent.

The president has also failed to make good on pre-election pledges to kick-start the ailing economy – beset by high inflation and a currency shortage, and the trigger for this week’s protests.

Referring to allegations of night-time door-to-door searches against demonstrators and beatings by police, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said hospital medics had treated more than 60 people for gunshot wounds.

“This is not way to react to the expression of economic grievances by the population,” she said.

One Harare schoolteacher waiting in a fuel station queue said filling his petrol tank twice a month would now cost him $528 rather than $230.

“I will have to probably cut on some other things or simply decide not to drive to work,” Gilbert Kepekepe told Reuters.

While long queues formed at petrol stations and outside shops, the internet shutdown meant that Harare banks were providing only partial services and no cash machines were working, a Reuters witness said.

Leading mobile operator Econet Wireless said late on Friday it had received an instruction from the government to reopen internet access, except for some social media applications.

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British Officials Worried About Angering Trump Over ISIS Captives

WASHINGTON — Top British officials confronted a dilemma last spring. Should they offer to help the United States prosecute two British nationals accused of abusing hostages as part of an Islamic State cell in Syria? Or would the conditions of their proposal scare off the Trump administration and worsen relations?

In an internal debate over the longstanding thorny legal issues surrounding terrorism prosecutions, the officials discussed whether to share evidence to prosecute the suspects, two members of the so-called Beatles whose gruesome hostage beheadings drew widespread attention five years ago. Britain routinely seeks assurances that the Justice Department will not pursue the death penalty, which Britain has abolished.

While career law-enforcement professionals would understand and expect that stance, the British ambassador, Kim Darroch, warned London that senior Trump appointees like Jeff Sessions, Jim Mattis and Mike Pompeo and their aides would react with “something close to outrage” — risking broader damage to the countries’ close alliance.

“They already feel that we are dumping on them a problem for which we should take responsibility,” Mr. Darroch wrote last May in a message that was part of a trove of private negotiations and internal deliberations made public on Friday as part of a court ruling in London.

Mr. Darroch added, referring to Prime Minister Theresa May as P.M.: “They have been signaling to us for weeks now that we are in no position to attach any conditions to this. At best they will think we have tin ears. At worst, they will wind the president up to complain to the P.M. and, potentially, to hold a grudge.”

The next month, the British relented and told Mr. Sessions, then the attorney general, that he could have the evidence even if prosecutors sought to execute the two British nationals. But they still insisted that the suspects be prosecuted in a civilian courtroom, not by the military commissions system at the American wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

A lawsuit challenging that decision was filed by the mother of El Shafee Elsheikh, who along with Alexanda Kotey was captured by an American-backed Kurdish militia in Syria a year ago. While a British court sided with the British government on Friday, she is likely to appeal, so it may be months before the case is resolved.

Mr. Elsheikh and Mr. Kotey were half of a group of British members of ISIS suspected of imprisoning and beheading Western hostages, including four Americans and Britons. Their captives labeled them “the Beatles” for their accents. The leader of the group, known as Jihadi John, was killed in an American drone strike, while a fourth is imprisoned in Turkey.

The two are among hundreds of ISIS fighters held by the Kurds. The prisoners hail from dozens of countries, including many from Europe, that have been reluctant to repatriate them. The court ruling illustrates the problems facing many of those countries: The Americans got involved because British prosecutors decided the evidence was insufficient for charges under British law.

The United States has more expansive laws for incarcerating people who joined terrorism groups, including the offense of providing material support to a terrorist organization. It also operates the Guantánamo prison, where it holds several dozen terrorism suspects without charges and is trying to prosecute a handful through the troubled military commissions system.

Like many European allies, Britain strongly opposes the Guantánamo prison. Mrs. May’s government was afraid that the Trump administration might send the two British men there, a recurring theme in the ruling.

Last March, the ruling said, the British home secretary at the time, Amber Rudd, met with Mr. Sessions to discuss the case: “In the course of those discussions, he expressed the view that all foreign terrorist fighters should be prosecuted in their home countries. He referred to them as ‘prisoners of war,’ and to Guantánamo Bay as the appropriate place of detention for prisoners of war.”

After discussions with Justice Department officials in April, the British security minister, Ben Wallace, internally argued against pushing for assurances against the death penalty, saying that he had been warned that “there were strong voices arguing for Guantánamo” and that “the more restrictions the U.K. attached to support, the harder it would be to avoid that outcome.”

And on May 30, when the new British home secretary, Sajid Javid, met with Mr. Sessions, the attorney general said that “if the U.S. were to be willing to try Elsheikh in a civilian court as opposed to a military one, he could not see how the U.S. could do that without the U.K. evidence or without recourse to the death penalty.”

Ultimately, Mr. Javid told Mr. Sessions in June that the United States could have the evidence without death-penalty conditions, so long as it was not introduced in the military commissions system. That concession by the British appears to have persuaded senior Trump administration officials to focus on an eventual civilian trial in the Eastern District of Virginia on charges that would most likely include conspiracy in kidnapping resulting in death, an offense that carries the death penalty, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.

Both Mr. Sessions, who was fired in November, and John R. Bolton, who became President Trump’s national security adviser in April, have agreed that a civilian trial is now seen as the most likely venue, according to former American officials. The family members of the victims had strongly pushed for that outcome. In a meeting with Mr. Bolton in late April, he was visibly emotional and pulled out a handkerchief in response to the families’ arguments, according to several people familiar with the meeting.

The British government immediately shared “a large number of witness statements” about the two men with the Justice Department, though testimony from British government officials would also probably be necessary at any trial. But after word of Mr. Javid’s move leaked to a British newspaper, Mr. Elsheikh’s mother filed the lawsuit.

Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, whom ISIS beheaded in August 2014 in a video it posted for propaganda, said she was encouraged by the court’s ruling but suspected it would be months before the issue was resolved.

“The British are standing with us,” Ms. Foley said. “I think that it’s very important as a country we hold them accountable using our federal criminal courts so it can be an open, transparent process.”

Her son, a freelance journalist covering the civil war in Syria, was abducted in November 2012 along with a British photojournalist named John Cantlie, who has also been displayed in propaganda videos. Mr. Cantlie was thought late last year to still be alive but sick, according to officials familiar with intelligence about ISIS.

Follow Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman on Twitter: @charlie_savage and @adamgoldmanNYT.

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Zimbabwe court rules pastor Mawarire to stand trial for subverting government

HARARE (Reuters) – A magistrates court in Harare ruled on Friday that Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire would stand trial for allegedly subverting the government and that he must appear in court on January 31.

Mawarire, who rose to prominence as a critic of former president Robert Mugabe and led a national protest in 2016, will be kept in custody until his next court appearance.

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Opinion | Learning From Cuba’s ‘Medicare for All’

HAVANA — Claudia Fernández, 29, is an accountant whose stomach bulges with her first child, a girl, who is due in April.

Fernández lives in a cramped apartment on a potholed street and can’t afford a car. She also gets by without a meaningful vote or the right to speak freely about politics. Yet the paradox of Cuba is this: Her baby appears more likely to survive than if she were born in the United States.

Cuba is poor and repressive with a dysfunctional economy, but in health care it does an impressive job that the United States could learn from. According to official statistics (about which, as we’ll see, there is some debate), the infant mortality rate in Cuba is only 4.0 deaths per 1,000 live births. In the United States, it’s 5.9.

In other words, an American infant is, by official statistics, almost 50 percent more likely to die than a Cuban infant. By my calculations, that means that 7,500 American kids die each year because we don’t have as good an infant mortality rate as Cuba reports.

How is this possible? Well, remember that it may not be. The figures should be taken with a dose of skepticism. Still, there’s no doubt that a major strength of the Cuban system is that it assures universal access. Cuba has the Medicare for All that many Americans dream about.

“Cuba’s example is important since for decades ‘health care for all’ has been more than a slogan there,” said Dr. Paul Farmer, the legendary globe-trotting founder of Partners in Health. “Cuban families aren’t ruined financially by catastrophic illness or injury, as happens so often elsewhere in the neighborhood.”

In Havana, I shadowed a grass-roots doctor, Lisett Rodríguez, as she paid a house call on Fernández — and it was the 20th time Dr. Rodríguez had dropped in on Fernández’s apartment to examine her over the six months of her pregnancy. That’s on top of 14 visits that Fernández made to the doctor’s office, in addition to pregnancy consultations Fernández held with a dentist, a psychologist and a nutritionist.

This was all free, like the rest of the medical and dental system. It’s also notable that Cuba achieves excellent health outcomes even though the American trade and financial embargo badly damages the economy and restricts access to medical equipment.

Fernández has received more attention than normal because she has hypothyroidism, making her pregnancy higher risk than average. Over the course of a more typical Cuban pregnancy, a woman might make 10 office visits and receive eight home visits.

Thirty-four visits, or even 18, may be overkill, but this certainly is preferable to the care common in, say, Texas, where one-third of pregnant women don’t get a single prenatal checkup in the first trimester.

Missing a prenatal checkup is much less likely in Cuba because of a system of front-line clinics called consultorios. These clinics, staffed by a single doctor and nurse, are often run down and poorly equipped, but they make health care readily available: Doctors live upstairs and are on hand after hours in emergencies.

They are also part of the neighborhood. Dr. Rodríguez and her nurse know the 907 people they are responsible for from their consultorio: As I walked with Dr. Rodríguez on the street, neighbors stopped her and asked her about their complaints. This proximity and convenience, and not just the lack of fees, make Cuba’s medical system accessible.

“It helps that the doctor is close, because transportation would be a problem,” Fernández told me.

Home visits are also a chance to reach elderly and disabled people and to coach dysfunctional families, such as those wracked by alcoholism (a common problem), and to work on prevention. During Dr. Rodríguez’s visits to Fernández, for example, they discuss breast-feeding and how to make the home safe for the baby.

“It’s no secret that most health problems can be resolved at the primary-care level by the doctor, nurse or health worker nearest you,” said Gail Reed, the American executive editor of the health journal Medicc Review, which focuses on Cuban health care. “So, there is something to be said for Cuba’s building of a national primary-care network that posts health professionals in neighborhoods nationwide.”

Each consultorio doctor is supposed to see every person in the area at least once a year, if not for a formal physical then at least to take blood pressure.

All this is possible because Cuba overflows with doctors — it has three times as many per capita as the United States — and pays them very little. A new doctor earns $45 a month, and a very experienced one $80.

The opening of Cuba to tourism has created some tensions. A taxi driver who gets tips from foreigners may earn several times as much as a distinguished surgeon. Unless, of course, that surgeon also moonlights as a taxi driver.

Critics inside and outside the country raise various objections to the Cuban system. Corruption and shortages of supplies and medicine are significant problems, and the health system could do more to address smoking and alcoholism.

There are also allegations that Cuba fiddles with its numbers. The country has an unusually high rate of late fetal deaths, and skeptics contend that when a baby is born in distress and dies after a few hours, this is sometimes categorized as a stillbirth to avoid recording an infant death.

Dr. Roberto Álvarez, a Cuban pediatrician, insisted to me that this does not happen and countered with explanations for why the fetal death rate is high. I’m not in a position to judge who’s right, but any manipulation seems unlikely to make a huge difference to the reported figures.

Outsiders mostly say they admire the Cuban health system. The World Health Organization has praised it, and Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary general, described it as “a model for many countries.”

In many ways, the Cuban and United States health care systems are mirror opposites. Cuban health care is dilapidated, low-tech and free, and it is very good at ensuring that no one slips through the cracks. American medicine is high-tech and expensive, achieving some extraordinary results while stumbling at the basics: A lower percentage of children are vaccinated in the United States than in Cuba.

The difference can also be seen in treatment of cancer. Cuba regularly screens all women for breast and cervical cancer, so it is excellent at finding cancers — but then it lacks enough machines for radiation treatment. In the United States, on the other hand, many women don’t get regular screenings so cancers may be discovered late — but then there are advanced treatment options.

As Cuba’s population becomes older and heavier (as in the United States, the nutrition problem here is people who are overweight, not underweight), heart disease and cancer are becoming more of a burden. And the lack of resources is a major constraint in treating those ailments.

There’s a Cuban saying: “We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.”

Cuba invests heavily in health care partly because it’s a moneymaker. Cuba exports doctors to other countries, and this has become an important source of hard currency (the doctors earn a premium while abroad, but much of the surplus goes to the government).

With its doctors, Cuba creates a global public good: I’ve encountered Cuban physicians in impoverished countries around the world, and Cuba also trains many doctors from Haiti and other countries. Hundreds of Cuban physicians also risked their lives to travel to West Africa during the Ebola crisis.

Cuba has developed its own pharmaceutical industry, partly to get around the American embargo, and this also creates financial opportunities. A lung cancer medication from Cuba is now undergoing a clinical trial in the United States, and a similar U.S.-Cuba partnership is pursuing a Cuban treatment for diabetic foot ulcers. To me, those partnerships represent a path toward cooperation that both sides should build on.

While we should call on Cuba to grant people like Fernández meaningful political rights, we should likewise push for American babies born in low-income families to have the same opportunity for attentive health care as her daughter will have.

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Nicholas Kristof has been a columnist for The Times since 2001. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for his coverage of China and of the genocide in Darfur. You can sign up for his free, twice-weekly email newsletter and follow him on Instagram. @NickKristof Facebook

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Zimbabwe charges activist pastor with subversion and incitement

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire was charged in court on Thursday with subverting the government, punishable by up to 20 years in jail, after violent protests this week that were met by a brutal crackdown from security forces.

Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday and initially charged by police with the lesser crime of inciting public violence after social media posts encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a strike call by the biggest labor union.

The charge sheet accused him of coercing workers to stay away from work and encouraging civil disobedience.

Mawarire’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa denied that he had incited violence. The court ordered Mawarire to be kept in detention and adjourned the pre-trial hearing until Friday.

Authorities have said three people died during the protests, which mostly took place in Zimbabwe’s two biggest cities, Harare and Bulawayo. Rights groups say the toll was much higher.

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  • Britain 'deeply concerned' at Zimbabwe unrest; summons ambassador


President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government decreed a 150 percent hike in fuel prices last weekend, which triggered the three-day strike, during which protesters barricaded roads with rocks and burned tyres and looted shops.

Two opposition legislators were charged with inciting public violence in Gweru, 280 km (175 miles) west of Harare. They were denied bail and their trial will start on Friday, lawyers said.

Britain, the former colonial ruler, summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador in London. Africa minister Harriett Baldwin said Britain condemned the violent behavior of some protesters, but was “deeply concerned that Zimbabwe’s security forces have acted disproportionately in response”.

Police rounded up 600 people this week in a crackdown on protesters. A doctors’ group said 68 people had been treated for gunshot wounds.

Lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights are representing more than 130 people including Mawarire, who rose to prominence as a critic of former strongman Robert Mugabe and led a national protest shutdown in 2016. He was tried on similar charges in 2017 but acquitted for lack of evidence.


Mnangagwa promised to repair the struggling economy after replacing Mugabe in an election following a coup in November 2017, but Zimbabwe has fallen back into familiar ways.

While some businesses reopened on Thursday after the strike, new data showed inflation soared to a 10-year high of 42 percent in December, even before the fuel price hike.

As dollar shortages batter the economy, rocketing inflation is destroying the value of citizens’ savings.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said its members had treated 172 people, some with dog bites, in private and public hospitals since Monday, when the protests started.

“There are cases of patients who had chest trauma and fractured limbs who were forcibly taken from hospital to attend court despite the advice of doctors,” ZAHDR said in a statement.

Of the 68 people treated for gunshot wounds, 17 underwent emergency surgery.

On Thursday, there were still long queues at the few filling stations selling fuel, sometimes under the watchful eye of soldiers. The few shops that were open were packed with people buying basics such as sugar, flour and bread.

Media platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remained blocked because of a government order, leading to accusations from opposition figures that it wanted to prevent images of heavy-handed police tactics being broadcast around the world. The U.S. Embassy urged that access be restored.

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Provincial funding to support Nova Scotia groups, projects helping seniors

Sixteen community-centred groups and projects geared toward helping improve the quality of life of senior citizens have received funding up to $25,000 to continue their efforts.

The Age-Friendly Community Grants Program’s latest round of recipients was announced by Seniors Minister Leo Glavine Thursday morning.

With one of the oldest populations in the country, Glavine said, the Nova Scotia provincial government has put an emphasis on supporting seniors.

“We want to be a leader in the country,” Glavine explained. “This is one of those initiatives that can help foster and help our communities come alive.”

The announcement was made at the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, which is being provided with $10,000 to fund their programs.

Those programs include an urban farm, peer-led assistance, kitchen skill building and much more.

It’s a place those in need can go to help themselves, their neighbours, or just get a healthy meal.

“People are retiring and just looking for something to do,” explained Amanda Nickerson, who works at the centre.

“We’re like, ‘give them either a chef’s knife or a backhoe to work around here,’” she joked.

Nickerson said that whenever new people start at the centre, it’s only a short amount of time before they’re impacted by what they have going on.

“Sometimes in their head space it’s not ‘what can I give anymore?’ it’s ‘how can I keep going?’” She explained. “They come here and realize that, ‘oh, I have so much more to offer, I have those skills that are never going to be shown to anybody else if I don’t show them.’”

“Everything from how to crochet and canning produce,” Nickerson said. “Things that we’re actually losing because it’s not being shared across generations anymore.”

It’s help that is reciprocated, Nickerson said..

“It’s really heartwarming to see a senior come in here for the first few times and then all of a sudden they’re coming in here with a family and they’re an honourary grandmother,” she said.

The province plans to give out around $200,000 on top of the $160,000 provided in this round of grants.

The deadline for community groups to apply is February 1.

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Britain 'deeply concerned' at Zimbabwe unrest; summons ambassador

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain summoned the UK Zimbabwean ambassador on Thursday to express its deep concern at unrest that has left three people dead and many injured.

Minister of State for Africa Harriett Baldwin said she had watched with growing concern both the behavior of some protesters and reports that security forces had used excessive violence.

“While we condemn the violent behavior of some protesters, and unlawful acts such as arson and looting, we are deeply concerned that Zimbabwe’s security forces have acted disproportionately in response,” she said in a statement.

Britain called on the government of its former colony to ensure the armed forces acted professionally and to restore full Internet access in the country.

“The UK government calls on Zimbabwe to ensure its security forces act professionally, proportionately and at all times with respect for human life,” the statement said.

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